Here I am getting ready to relax on a Saturday and watch the Cubs' game. To my dismay, my plan was foiled early. My wife woke up that morning inspired and determined to declutter. I can't complain, she rarely gets the initiative to do things like this. I painfully listened to this master plan and eventually gave in.
All-in-all this was a great exercise. Although I was very skeptical, I came to terms with the fact that I simply wasn't going to use any of this stuff ever again. I mean, my waist is a size 34" so my old jean shorts with a 30" waist were probably not going to be any more useful than the old GW BASIC manuals I found.
Now that we're cleaned out, the trick will be to stay uncluttered. So let's look at both sides: what to get rid of and how to keep clutter from piling up in the first place.
First, let's unclutter. I am not indicating that you have to get rid of this stuff, this is just a sample of what I did. Maybe it will give you an idea or two.
- It's worth nothing
The first thing to hit the donation pile was my Atari 2600, Nintendo, and Super Nintendo. Along with all the games I had, it was probably 30 lbs of useless scrap. Before you say it was worth something, know that I routinely beat the heck out of these machines when I'd lose games (it was a long time ago, I'm not violent!). They were all pretty banged up and they have been sitting in the same spot for 10 years collecting dust!
- Old School
My 1993-2003 wardrobe - I have no idea why I kept it this long. However, I am pretty sure that I am not going to toss on a Miami Vice/Don Johnson outfit anytime soon. If you haven't worn the clothes in the last year, it may be safe to get rid of them. The funniest part about this is that I had these old clothes jammed into the same closet with the clothes I wear today. All this did was make getting dressed each morning a battle to pull something from the closet. Now that the old stuff is gone, all I have hanging up are things I really do wear.
Maybe I am a romantic but for some reason I held onto a huge box full of photos and memorabilia from my ex-girlfriends. Pictures, cards, old high school prom trinkets, etc. Listen, memories are great but when you get married or even if you are a single and in your twenties, consider dumping some of this stuff. I personally found no reason to keep any of it. It's not as if I grab a bottle of Jack and reminisce about the 'old days'. If I ever need to, I am sure my parents have plenty of pictures for me.
- Old Data
While I did have a ton of old cassette tapes and term papers, the data I am talking about here is user's manuals. Believe it or not, I still had MS-DOS manuals. Keep in mind, this was before digital anything so a DOS manual was easily 7 inches thick, in a binder, and a boring read. I even found a manual for GW Basic and the 18 install floppies for WordPerfect 3.1.
- Old PCs
If I had old manuals for DOS, you had to believe I had old PCs, keyboards, monitors, etc. Even though my iPod has more memory than those PCs, I donated them. If that wasn't bad enough, I still had the boxes these PCs came in.
Yes, at one point in my life I was a workout nut. Until last weekend, I kept a collection of close to 300 lbs of free weights, a full bench, bars, etc. Do you know how much room that took up? The spider webs alone weighed 15 lbs. These went to Play it Again Sports so I could at least collect some cash when they sell.
- Broken stuff
I had all sorts of things from broken coffee makers, to TVs, to lawn mowers. I saved all of these things because I believed that one day, I'd use the parts for something. Come on, let's get real. I am not Mr. Fix-it and I am not about to write an Instructable.
- Old Bills
Do you know that I had water bills from 1995? That's just foolish. I shredded a ton of old paperwork - everything from bills to loan applications. Before you go nuts, you should read up on what you need to retain.
Next I'll explain how we did it and how we intend to prevent a mass decluttering in the future. It may seem basic and I thought so too. However, if it's so simple, why are we surrounded by junk?
- Skimming Rooms
Don't skim. When you walk into a room with the intention of decluttering, seriously look in every drawer and closet - empty them all out and consider every item. Heck, look under the bed too! If you see something that has no sentimental value and hasn't been used in a year, get rid of it.
We shred close to everything that comes in the mail. However, this becomes a chore when you receive 58 credit card offers each week, insurance quotes, etc. At the end of any given week, set aside time to shred. On occasion, I have actually thrown all of this garbage in the fireplace and burned it. I don't care what you do, just don't let it build up to the point of having to invest 3 hours on a Saturday shredding.
- Slow down
We didn't declutter the house in 2 hours, this was a full days work. Take your time and concentrate on one room at a time. Get rid of old magazines, blankets, winter coats, and anything that you honestly don't think will have any value in a year.
- When the time changes
They (not sure who they is) say that you should change your smoke detector batteries every time the time changes to/from Daylight savings. That is our new declutter indicator as well. Twice a year, we're going room-to-room and getting rid of stuff.
- Purchases and Freebies
When you are pacing through Target, resist the urge to buy that picture frame that's 40% off. If you have a real need for it, fine, but accumulating 'stuff' just because you got a deal is going to lead to clutter. We are going to try to get rid of 1 item for every new item we purchase. This will admittedly be tough.
- Magazines When you get new phone books or magazines, recycle the old ones. This is so simple but I somehow ended up with a stack of old Business Week, Maxim, and Sports Illustrated magazines. Most were found in the drawers of the nightstand and in bathroom cabinets.
We all get birthday or holiday gifts that we don't want. Don't just toss them in a closet somewhere. Either re-gift them or toss them on Freecycle.
- Train your Kids
This has worked wonderfully. Each time my kids ask for a new toy, I simply ask them which old toy they want to donate to charity. When we get home from the store, we pick up the old toy and put it in the car so we can drop it off at a Salvation Army drop box. Not only are they learning to donate, they are not contributing to the clutter problem.
- Touch it once
This is almost a time trick but it really applies to clutter as well. When you grab a screwdriver for example, use it and put it back in its correct spot when you are done. I was in the habit of tossing it on the kitchen counter and ultimately it ended up in the junk drawer along with a ton of other miscellaneous items.